Self-Publishing Perspectives: A Successful Author, Agent, and Publisher Discuss the Revolution in Progress

by
Kevin Larimer
11.1.13

What’s the biggest misconception about self-publishing?

Ciotta: The stigma. Slowly, the industry is breaking away from the stigma that if a book is self-published, it’s not worthy of a publishing house, or it’s not worthy to read at all. Now that many self-published authors are businesspeople, too, their books are well written and professional and they can certainly uphold or go above and beyond readers’ standards. That being said, both traditionally published and self-published books can be amazing, good, or just plain bad. So it’s an author’s job to do his best to be in the “amazing” category and blow readers away.

What’s the future of self-publishing look like? Where are we headed with this?

Ciotta: Since self-publishing is making a ton of money, it’s only going to get hotter and hotter. We’ll see more self-published titles than ever. I believe self-published authors will bust through some major industry barriers. Perhaps the New York Times will start reviewing a self-published book once in a while, in the future. Or we’ll start seeing a few more self-published authors being interviewed on NPR or on Jon Stewart.

But most of all, self-pubbing in the future will give the power back to the readers. What the readers demand, the readers will get. And that’s the beauty of self-publishing.

Nelson: Back in 2007, my fellow agents assumed that print-on-demand was only for those who couldn’t find an agent or a “real” publisher. I never thought that. And you know why? Because over the course of my career, I haven’t been able to sell any number of projects for a variety of reasons. But I thought those novels were always worthy and ready for publication, otherwise I wouldn’t have offered representation! Now if a client wants to pursue a regular publishing deal, we go for it. But if it doesn’t happen, we aren’t necessarily despondent. We have a host of other options available to help this author find his or her audience. Traditional publishing is simply one avenue. That’s why I launched NLA Digital in 2011. It’s a platform that not only supports the reissuing of client backlist titles but also supports clients launching new frontlist titles. And, according to Bowker stats from the 2013 Digital Book World Conference, on average the hybrid author—an author who is both traditionally and self-published—will make anywhere from 10 to 20 percent more in income than authors who are just in one camp or the other. My job is to not only guide an author’s career but to also help my client make more money. Through my agent filter, hybrid looks like the future to me.

When a traditional publisher gets 100 percent behind a title and the launch is a major event, the results are unparalleled. Hands down. It’s magic, and a completely unknown author becomes a household name in less than a year. The problem is that this treatment only happens for a handful of titles in any given year. Self-publishing is the empowerment of the midlist author who would have been dropped by a publisher for sales underperformance. Now that author can find the right price point for the audience, have ultimate control, and make a decent living.

And for me, here is the last word—for now: I have yet to see a self-published title become a worldwide, juggernaut best-seller without the backing of a major publisher. Now this isn’t to say it will never happen, but as the publishing world stands right now it would be hard to achieve. Until the first one...

Nash: The future of self-publishing is the same as the future of publishing. The two are inseparable; they aren’t, in fact, even two. They are these terms of convenience becoming increasingly inconvenient, at least in terms of describing reality. Walt Whitman, Sander Hicks, Hugh Howey, E. L. James, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Guy Kawasaki have nothing in common, except that they’re all, technically, self-published. But the reasons, the tools, the goals are all radically different. You could create an equally absurd cross section of so-called traditional publishing. Some self-publishers have agents, some don’t; some are in print, some aren’t; some do “distribution” deals (as opposed to “publishing” deals), some don’t. I know, in order to have this conversation, we have to agree for the moment to talk about self-publishing as if it existed in contradistinction to selfless-publishing, but I do hope we abandon the term quickly, so we can proceed on to helping individual writers realize their goals, matching their skills with peers and intermediaries without regard for how closely they mimic what was once called traditional publishing. We’re all publishers now. That’s both a desire and a prediction.

Kevin Larimer is the editor in chief of Poets & Writers, Inc.

Comments

so much misinformation

The only thing true about this article by these 3 interviewees is when they say self-publishing is here to stay. Other than that, there's quite a bit of hypocrisy and misinformation being thrown about.

If self-publishers are bringing in millions, it's news to the millions who have self-published. It's actually the self-publishing industry that has grown up around self-publishers making the millions: Cover artists, fly-by-night editors, author services charging exhorbitant rates, only to have these books languish, known only to friends and family, never to be seen by strangers. Sockpuppet reviews. Dismal Amazon ratings. Haranguing of friends and family on Facebook to buy/review whether they've read the book or not "just drop me a 5".

I'll continue to trust the gatekeepers to continue publishing authors I like, books I like, and I'll depend on word of mouth from trusted friends, none of who have ever recommended a self-published book. 

Now, why not do an interview about the real truth of self-publishing? About how only a very few sell even in the hundreds. Look at the dismal Amazon ratings of self-published books, pick a few and then interview THEM. That's where you'll find your millions. 

Self-publishing

Actually, the famous author Stephen King self-published. In my view self-publishing can be a first step in the career of a writer. When you consider that the publishing industry has only 4 major publishers who much prefer scandal bios these days or celebrity names, it's the publishing industry that's done itself in. Too many editors in these publishing houses act like maniacal, autocratic powermongers. When the attitude is "I have your writing career in the palm of my hand," self-publishing begins to look far more appealing than dealing with editors of the major publishing companies. 

Also, there's the bizarre conundrum for writers who are unagented. No agent? No solicitation of your work to publishers. No published work? No agent wants an unpublished author. What kind of nonsense is that if not overzealous commercialism of the literary world. When money is the only reason to write, sorry...it's not good enough for me. I write my novels because they interest others. Those who are not interested? So be it. Writers are like starving artists...we know going in there's a dearth of competition out there. Those who can stand it, do. Those who can't don't make it. 

Too many people will point to

Too many people will point to the outliers as "proof" that self-publishing is a grand success for all, when the truth is that most self-publishers will barely sell anything. Some because they just can't write, others because they don't know how to effectively market or publicize, others because their books are poorly produced (again, through lack of knowledge). The lack of print editions, or audiobooks, is another drawback. Many have been told it won't cost them a dime, when in fact, to produce a professional level book, most writers haven't a clue, and that means laying out some cash for editing and cover design, at the very least.

I wouldn't actively discourage a writer from self-publishing, but I would strongly encourage them to educate themselves about publishing first, and that includes trade publishing. Look at the biases of the people pushing one into SP. And as always, remember that if it sounds too good to be true...

Darrell Lindsey says...

Self-publishing is the easy way out for some people. But there is no substitute for good writing and good marketing. Those who have had self-published book success could probably teach some of the major publishers a thing or two!

Darrell Lindsey
Author of Edge Of The Pond ( Popcorn Press, 2012)

Self-publishing ... Go ahead; write, publish, promote!

Self-publishing is the way to go today. I started back in 2008 with a property preservation book -- and that initial title made it possible for me to quit my day job. 

Self-publishing opened up a whole new way of life for me:   live about half the year in the Caribbean (other in Atlanta, writing still), with the sea just in the distance, working on romance novellas -- and non-fiction works when I need a creative break. I pay my bills and fill my belly with income from the books I've written. I'm certainly not rich, but the point is you can earn a decent living self-publishing your own books -- and have the freedom to do what you want with your time when you're not writing. And contrary to what many believe, it does not have to cost you an arm and a leg  to publish and promote your work.  Personally, I spend less than $20 bucks producing each of my books. To upload to BN and Amazon is free; you can create your own ebook covers using simple programs like Paint; you can buy photos for less than a few dollars on internet photo sites; and you can promote your books yourself with article marketing and social media. 

Mind you, it's not easy (re: self-publishing is a REAL business), but it's soooo possible. 

The key, I've found, personally, to be a successful self-publisher, is production/volume and marketing.  You have to produce -- and you have to produce A LOT -- and you have to market, period.  (You also need a thick skin because you'll have naysayers in both ears.)

Good Lord, go for it! With outlets like Amazon and BN, it's such a viable option for the writer ready to get their stories in the hands of actual readers -- vs. just in the hands of agencies and pub houses that can turn your work down for a myriad of reasons that, ironically, may not have anything to do with your story or your writing.

Go ahead; write, publish, promote! Good luck to you. :)

http://www.CassandraBlack.com

Fantastic article on the pros

Fantastic article on the pros and cons of self-publishing.  I have always been leery of self-publishing  because it is such a lonely endeavor with no outside support.  But I love the idea of becoming a hybrid author, with an agent who understands and even encourages self-publishing!  Who says the publishing industry isn't getting more progressive?  Janelle www.janellefila.com